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was hailed by a burst of applause, and stood benevolently wondering through his spectacles what it could be all about) “we are very proud to think how little drunkenness we have in this parish. I'm sure you 'll all take a pride, and you particularly, boys," (the boys at the end of the table became specially attentive, “in keeping up our good name. • Merry and wise,' is our Avenly motto. You will be sure to go right if you will only mind your mothers and wives, whom I am always delighted to welcome here with you, and who, mind, ought always to be with you at such times. Mind, boys, and men too, there's no honest mirth where wives and daughters can't come.
There's one more word, which, perhaps, would come better from the vicar than from me; but as he 'll have his turn to-morrow in the pulpit, I may just touch upon his ground now. This Ashen Fagot' night, you know, is the night of peace and good-will of all the year. So, if any of you have had fallings-out with your neighbors, or in your families, now 's the time to set them all right. Don't let the last bond of the fagot burst before we have made all our hearts clean and whole with all men this Christmas eve. I see there's another bond just going to burst; so I shall only wish you all again a very merry Christmas."
The bond burst almost before Mr. Kendrick sat down, but not a soul in the room noticed it. Every eye was turned to the opposite side of the room. Her father's look as he spoke, and some of his words, had touched Mabel very deeply. She could scarcely keep from bursting into tears. The warmth of the great fagot and the smell of the smoke
her choking feeling, which she found it every moment more difficult to struggle against. So she had glided across to the opposite door, and, opening it a little, stood by it listening. Just as Mr. Kendrick finished, she stepped out for a breath of fresh air, to look at the pure moonlight, and recover herself, when she heard her name whispered close by. She
turned with a start, and the next moment found herself in the arms of a man. Altogether, the excitement of the day and the evening, with this last shock at the end of all, proved too much for her, and she fairly fainted away.
“ Good God, Herbert ! what am I to do? Here's Mabel fainting !”
“ Why the deuce did you frighten her, then ? Come, bring her in," and, so saying, Herbert pushed the door open. The astonishment of the company vented itself first in a sort of gasp ; Mr. Kendrick turned sharply round, following the universal stare, and beheld one bearded stranger in front, standing on his kitchen floor, with a big stick in his hand, and his daughter in the arms of another just behind him. He sprang to his feet, as did all the other men, but not before Mrs. Kendrick had rushed across the kitchen, crying,
Mabel, dearest, what is it? What have you done to my child ? " “ Mother, dear mother! don't
know me?" “ Johnny!
O God, is it Johnny ?” and now the mother was on his neck, sobbing hysterically; and the whole of the women thronged round them, and murmurs of “ Master John!” “ 'T is the young squire, zhure enough !” Massy, how a be grawed,” and such like, passed round the men.
“ Had n't you better stand back, and give the young lady room to come round ? ” said Herbert.
Mr. Kendrick now pressed forward with blanched face through the crowd. The son could only stretch out his hand, with, “ Dear father, you have forgiven me ? ”
John Kendrick the elder seized and grasped it twice, but could not speak. He was not the man to give way in public, but his bowels yearned to his son, and he fled away to his chamber to weep there.
Herbert was looking on, much moved, weighing within himself whether he could be of any use, when his eye caught
sight of the vicar, making horrible gulping faces, and wiping his spectacles. He looked anxiously at him for a moment, and then, springing across, seized his hand and began shaking it furiously.
“ Why, Mr. Ward, Mr. Ward, don't you know me?”
" Eh, oh! what? no! Who are you ? ” replied the vicar, shaking away, however, with great good-will, and glad to find an outlet for his feelings.
“ Why, Herbert Upton of course. Who should I be?”
“ What, Herbert! God bless me! No, it can't be. Yes, I see. My dear boy, what brings you here? Where have you been? Why have n't
written?” “ So I have, often, some years back.” “ What, written ? I've never had the letters." " And Nelly ?"
“O, here she is, somewhere. Nelly, where are you? We often talk of you and old times.”
And now there was like to be another catastrophe calling for salts and cold water, as Herbert and Nelly met again after six years' parting. He had left her a slip of a girl, and found her a fine young woman.
She had last seen him a stripling of twenty, and he stood there now a greatbearded man.
Readers must picture to themselves the rest of the scene, – how the troubled groups divided themselves again ; how the Ashen Fagot revelry went on in the kitchen, every bond that had burst during the interruption receiving due posthumous honors; how the reputation of Avenly for strict sobriety was somewhat shaken that night, though nothing was said about it by squire or vicar; how, at the supper in the parlor, to which no one but Herbert and Dick did any justice, the story of Herbert's meeting with Johnny half-starved in the streets of Sydney, and taking him into his employment, of their defence of their wagon and beasts against bushrangers, of the lucky accident which enabled Herbert to come home,
was told by fits and starts in answer to a thousand questions.
It was almost midnight before they broke up, and then Mr. Kendrick asked the vicar to read to them, and took down his big Bible. And the old vicar, peering through his spectacles, turned to the 15th chapter of St. Luke, and read it; and as the well-known words were heard again, there was no dry eye in the parlor, except the incorrigible Dick's.
Herbert Upton escorted the vicar and Nelly home; and on the next Sunday the banns of Herbert Upton, of New South Wales, and Eleanor Ward, of Avenly, were duly published for the first time in the parish church. Herbert established himself for the winter at the vicarage, with three good hunters, which stood in Mr. Kendrick's capacious stables. The worthy villagers of Avenly will long remember and talk over the Ashen Fagot night when the young squire came home again.